Friday, December 22, 2017

Comfort and Joy Advent: Days 16-20

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 16: Community//
Sometimes I try to do things on my own. I’m so grateful that God designed us to live in community—to be the body. To comfort one another as we’ve been comforted.
I’m grateful for friends that understand. For women who have walked down this road and can empathize with me, while pointing me toward truth.
I’m thankful for friends with completely different experiences than me. I’m thankful for the ways they have given me a fresh perspective and been brave enough to step into a mess they may not understand.
I’m grateful for new friends and old.
I’m grateful for people I know I can be real with. People I can call in the midst of the pain, and not feel the need to fake it. I think of a friend from church who I called moments after finding out we lost the twins, and I couldn’t get ahold of Chris. It means so much that I didn’t even hesitate to call her—I knew I could. She stayed on the phone with me until I was ok to drive. She cried with me. She prayed with me. It fills my eyes with grateful tears to have friends like that. People who would drop anything to help you. Who cry with you. Who gently speak truth into your life. Who act as the hands and feet of Jesus.
I want to be this friend. I want to be the body. I want to love like Jesus.
I am grateful for the greatest gift of love—of Christ coming to earth to be our redeemer.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 17: Joy to the world//
Joy. We have joy because Christ came to earth, to be rejected and to suffer, so that we could have life. We have joy because Christ—fully God and fully man—died in our place. Not only this, but he rose again and conquered death. Because of him, we can have eternal life with him.
We recently sang a song in church that referred to Christ calling us out of the grave of sin and death, and into his glorious kingdom. I rejoice in this. Because of Christ, I am free from sin. I also rejoice in the literal implications of this. Because of Christ, physical death is not the end. Because of Christ, my Ethan can be fully restored—body and soul—and run and dance in worship.
Joy to the world.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 18: Fear not//
Luke 2:10-11”And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
I’ve been thinking about what it must have been like to be one of the shepherds who were out in the fields the night the angels announced the birth of Christ. When I read the account of this in scripture it’s easy to feel excitement (from the comfort of my warm home)--but when I imagine what it would truly have been like to see an angel appear and the glory of the Lord shine all around, I probably would’ve been scared too. Definitely speechless.
I love the argument the angel presents for why the shepherds should not fear. Our Savior, Christ the Lord, had come to earth. That truth is powerful enough to dissolve any fear we face.
I know this deep in my core, but it’s tempting for me to fall into fear over and over. I’m the most susceptible to fear when I take my eyes off of the sovereignty of my Savior and try to figure things out on my own. When I feel fear and doubt creep in, it has helped me to remind myself of WHO He is and who I am in light of him. I’ve been carrying these notecards around in my car with me for the last two months and taking time to read them, usually in parking lots. Scripture helps me keep my gaze fixed where it belongs. When I begin to take my eyes off of Jesus and on to my fears, my past, my doubts, I am reminded of WHO He is and that is everything.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 19: Love//
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
After Ethan died, I really wrestled with the idea that God loved me. I knew He was sovereign and I knew He was powerful. I surprisingly never doubted His existence, but the certainty of His existence and His sovereignty only deepened my feelings of betrayal and confusion. I had a very hard time believing that He loved me.
I dove headfirst into scripture. I had read through my entire Bible before, but I was hungry for a renewed understanding. I needed answers.
As I read, I began to see just how much God truly loves us and just how broken this world is. With new eyes, I began to truly see why God sent his son to earth to die in our place and what a gift it is to have an advocate to declare us righteous to the Father. He sent Jesus to conquer death. I began to see just how much God loves me--us.
Christmas usually feels like the “light and cozy” holiday, while Easter feels more somber...but Christmas is the start of what was to come on Easter. Christ came to earth as a baby to die on our behalf. That is love.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 20: Scripture//
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Friday, December 15, 2017

Comfort and Joy Advent: Days 8-15

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 8: New traditions//
We’re still figuring the whole tradition thing out. Yesterday I mentioned how much I love family traditions, but I didn’t mention how complicated it can feel to start new ones as a family of seven that appears to be a family of two. Who do we include on our Christmas card? How do we settle into this rare form of normal?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this with certainty. Ethan, our twins, and the tiny babies we never met have absolutely no expectations of how we continue our family traditions. Whether they are celebrated with grand gestures or their memories are simply cherished in our hearts, they are WHOLE, and lacking absolutely nothing. They are not disappointed by what we do or do not choose to do. I picture them dancing in the presence of our Holy God, free from sickness, pain, sin, and death. They are standing in the presence of Jesus, free from worry or tears. They are whole.
This brings me such comfort as I navigate through the complicated process of creating new traditions.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 9: Silent night//
“I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me.” Job 30:20
Have you ever felt like Job? Perhaps you’ve been crying out to God over and over without any clear answers. Perhaps you’re still waiting for healing, provision, or clarity. Perhaps you’ve heard him say no and it makes no sense. Perhaps God feel silent as you cry out into the night.
Earlier this month as we prepared for our latest episode of @throughthelenspodcast, my friend Holly reminded me of this quote I had read by Vaneetha Risner. She says, "Read the Bible even when it feels like eating cardboard. And pray even when it feels like talking to a wall." I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt this way in various seasons. Yet, we are called to remain steadfast and to cling to what is true when we are faced with discontentment and doubt. Like any discipline, spiritual discipline can be hard work. Sometimes we simply don't "feel" like praying. Yet even in those moments, God wants to hear from us. He calls for us to draw near to him. He has never left us. He remains faithful, even when we only hear silence.
When we find ourself in the midst of what feels like a silent night--not the warm and peaceful Christmas kind, but the distressing and lonely kind--may we find hope in the knowledge that God sent Jesus to earth so that we could have a relationship with Him. So that we could come blameless before His throne and speak to him. Because of Jesus, we know that God hears us even when things feel silent.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 10: Faith//
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2–3
I’ve read this verse so many times and it wasn’t until recently that the phrase “the testing of your faith” caught my eye. I understand that suffering can produce steadfastness in our lives, but lately I’ve been thinking more about how the TESTING of our faith produces steadfastness.
Faith is defined as a “complete trust or confidence in someone or something”. Sometimes we’re afraid to admit when this confidence has been rocked. Perhaps people have told us we shouldn’t question--that we should simply “have faith”. While we are called to faith, what a gift to know that growth and intimacy can come through the testing of our faith--through the questions, through the wrestling. As I have wrestled with God, he has drawn close to me. As I have hurled questions at him, he has patiently remained steadfast and revealed truth to me. I’m grateful for seasons of doubt and wrestling because of the ways they have strengthened my faith.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 11: Christmas mourning//
Christmas was immensely painful the year Ethan died. Everywhere I looked I was surrounded by smiling faces, jubilant carols, and festive decor. The world looked so happy, but my heart was breaking. How could everyone celebrate? I walked through the season surrounded by people who were celebrating, without any idea that I had watched my beautiful, yet incredibly weak little boy fight for his life and die in my arms just months before. I didn’t expect them to know, but the contrast was jarring.
Christmas mourning is hard. It’s not well understood, nor is it popular. Christmas mourning felt socially unacceptable—almost like a disease other people were afraid to catch, despite the fact that it wasn’t contagious.
But that first year, in the midst of Christmas mourning, I was given a gift. I gained a whole new appreciation for the gift of God sending Jesus to earth to be our redeemer. I saw the need for a Savior. I saw that He came to earth to die so that we may live. So that we could be reconciled before the Father and have relationship with him.
This gift brings me such joy in Christmas mourning, and always.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 12: Light in the darkness//
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
Two weeks ago, our pastor spoke on John 1:1-14 and something he said really left an impact on me. Scripture tells us that the light--Jesus Christ--shines in the darkness. It does not say that he shone in the darkness, or that he will shine in the darkness eventually. It tells us that he SHINES in the darkness.
Jesus overcame darkness and death in the Resurrection. He is still winning NOW, even when things may seem so dark. He will win in the end, at his final coming. He shines in the darkness.
It’s easy to look around and to feel so discouraged by all of the evil in the world. While the world is indeed filled with brokenness, God graciously holds back the amount of evil that could unfold. His light still pierces through the darkness. And one day, Jesus will return to conquer injustice, evil, and death once and for all. Hallelujah.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 13: Scripture//
Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,  but now my eye sees you;therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”-Job 42:1-6
This scripture may seem out of place in the season of advent, but it is a passage that has been burning in my heart for the last few months. This past summer, shortly after losing our twins, I participated in a study on the book of Job. I had read the book a few times before and, to be honest, it had never left much of an impression on me until then. This time, as I read the book with a helpful commentary, I began to see the ways that Job points to Jesus (“If only there were an advocate to speak on my behalf!”), responds to criticism from his friends (“Surely this is the result of your sin”), suffers righteously, and comes to see who God is in the midst of his pain.
As the book concludes, Job finds answers in WHO God is. God doesn’t tell him the specific reasons for allowing Job to suffer--He simply reveals himself and that is enough. Despite Job’s right standing with God, he still falls on his face in awe and repentance.
I have seen that He can do all things and no purpose of His can be thwarted. I have uttered things that I did not understand, things too wonderful for me that I did not know. I had heard of him, but now my eyes see him.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 14: Savoring the season//
When I was a child, I dreamed of being older. When I was in high school, I looked back on my childhood with nostalgia and yearned for college life. When Chris and I were first married, I yearned for the season when we could finally purchase our first home, and looked back on those simple college days with sentimentality. When we bought our first home, I looked forward to the days when our home would be filled with children and looked back on that newlywed season in our one-bedroom apartment with such nostalgia.
It has been all too easy for me to miss my current season because my eyes were set on both the past and the future. Ironically, the seasons I have looked back on with such sweet memories have been ones that I couldn’t wait to move forward from at the time.
A year ago I made a resolution to fight against the discontentment and to savor the season I have been given. To praise God for placing me in this exact place for this exact time. To open my eyes to the opportunities around me and to be fully present.
Today, I savor this beautiful season of our lives. I savor the spontaneous dinner dates, spur-of-the-moment movie nights, and last-minute get-togethers with friends. I savor sleeping in on the weekend. I savor that I can be out the door in 5 minutes if needed. I savor being able to let my dog sit in the front seat.  I savor weekend camping trips. I savor going on a run whenever I feel like it. I savor the opportunities for ministry that we’ve been given. I savor having so much uninterrupted one-on-one time with my husband. I know this season will not last forever and rather than miss these sweet moments I’ve been given, I choose to cherish them. I didn’t expect this to be my season at 29, but I am savoring it while it is here.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 15: The first Christmas//
The first Christmas without Ethan is both incredibly hazy, yet wildly vivid. I can clearly remember the discomfort that accompanied that first holiday season without our son, yet I can hardly remember the details of the places we went or the things we did. Last year, someone asked me what we had done for Christmas the year before and I couldn’t remember. It startled me for a moment to realize that such a large block of time was missing from my memories. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and everything in between was so foggy. It wasn’t until later when I scrolled through old pictures on my phone that memories slowly started to fall into place like puzzle pieces. It was as if my mind had subconsciously blocked out that time in an attempt to shield me from some trauma.

When I think back on that painful Christmas, I cannot help but feel so grateful for the original first Christmas. I am thankful that God sent Jesus down to earth to be our advocate and our redeemer. I am thankful that Jesus came to earth to die in our place and to conquer sin and death in the process. Hallelujah.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Comfort and Joy Advent: Days 1-7

Day 1: Winter//
As a child, I eagerly anticipated winter all year long. Growing up in Southern California, winter wasn’t so much about bitter cold and snow as it was a cumulation of all of my favorite yearly celebrations. December was always filled with festivities for Christmas and my birthday, each complete with beloved friends, family, and plenty of fun surprises.
The year we lost Ethan, winter took on a whole new meaning for me. December was no longer the highly anticipated month I had always looked forward to. It was no longer a time of singing, smiles, and continuing family traditions. December became nothing more than winter.
Bitter, dark, cold winter.
Looking back on December 2015, I can vividly remember how cold it was. While the temperatures were average for that time of year, everything felt so much colder. The world continued to spin with joyful festivities in spite of my aching heart and it felt cold--cruel even. Questions, confusion, sorrow and defeat whirled around me like harsh winter winds and I struggled to stand beneath the force of it all.
It always strikes me as interesting that the sun continues to rise each morning and warm the earth, even in the dead cold of winter. As I notice the rays of sun stretching across the sky and through my window, I am reminded that the winters of our lives do not last forever. The sun serves as a picture of God’s continual grace and mercy in our lives, even in the coldest winter seasons. I am reminded to rest in his goodness and soak in the realization that He has promised to return again and bring final restoration. Even when our earthly circumstances do not change, Christ is the end to our winter.
The eternal Spring is coming.

Photo by Clem Ono (text modified)
Day 2: The empty seat at the table//
Grief changes as the days, months, and years pass. I wouldn’t say that it goes away, but it takes different shapes and softens with time. Two years, three months, two weeks, and two days after Ethan’s death, I am able to find joy on most days--something that honestly felt nearly impossible in those initial months. I laugh more often than I cry, though I still welcome an evening of tearful lamentation from time to time.
Though my grief has changed over time, there are some things that will always remain the same this side of heaven. Someone important will always be missing. A part of me will always ache. A piece of our family will always be absent. This world will never feel completely like my home--nor should it, because it is not. The absence of our son further solidifies my unwavering belief that our home is not of this world. It further keeps my teary eyes fixed on Christ and my weary heart tethered to the hope of heaven.
As I anticipate that day and do my best to embrace each opportunity God has presented me with on this side of heaven, a piece of me will always grieve the child who is missing--not without hope, but grieving nonetheless.
As life continues to bring new experiences, unexpected joys, and reasons to celebrate, there will always be an empty seat at our table.
One less pair of Christmas pajamas to purchase. One less child on my Christmas shopping list. One less pair of eyes lighting up at the sight of an elaborate light display. One less chime of laughter on Christmas morning. One less place setting at the dinner table.
The empty seat is both a painful reminder and a beautiful symbol of God’s faithfulness and the hope that is coming.

Photo by Redd Angelo
Day 3: Hope and expectation//
O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels' voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine o night
O night divine
It was not until recent years that I began to notice the recurring theme of hope and expectation in so many familiar Christmas songs. The weary world is in desperate need of a Savior--my aching heart is in desperate need of a Savior. What a gift that God sent his son Jesus to bring hope to a broken world. What a gift that we can have a relationship with him here and now. May we rejoice with teary eyes, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, cherish who he is, and eagerly expect his return.

Comfort and Joy Advent-Day 4: Oh come, Emmanuel//
In the midst of the heartbreak and overwhelming pain, the truth of Christmas has become more real to me. And the truth brings me comfort. In a way, Christmas is more meaningful to me than it ever has been before. Sure, I could go all year without hearing another carol, eating another cookie or visiting the mall. But the truth of Christmas has hit me upside the head.

O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

Christmas is about God coming to earth to rescue his people and to offer salvation to a broken world. God's people waited for the Messiah to come. They faced persecution, slavery and tribulation. They longed for a king. They longed for peace. Jesus came to die on the cross, to set his chosen people free.

That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear.

Jesus came to offer hope to a world of heartache. He knew that the world was broken. He knew that the world was hurting. He knew that people were fighting to keep going. That is why He came. To offer rescue. To provide hope.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

He came. He came to offer salvation to those who call on His name. He came and He is coming again. He is coming to conquer evil and brokenness. He is coming bring justice to the Earth. He is coming to wipe every tear from our eyes.


Isaiah 9:6-7 "For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever."

*An excerpt from a blog post I wrote the year Ethan died. You can read the entire post here.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 5: I wish they knew//
I’m doing okay this year--good even. When November rolled around and the weather started to cool down, I felt a spark of excitement stir inside of me. It felt strange at first because the Christmas season hasn’t evoked that type of response in three years, but I was grateful for the change. I looked forward to celebrating our Savior’s birth with lights, music, and festivities. The feeling can best be described as excitement.
Someone asked me how I was doing recently and I told them. “I’m good,” I said, truly meaning it and feeling my heart fill with the peace only God can give.
“No, really. Are you sure?” they asked with care.
I nodded. “Really. I am good.”
I could tell they didn’t believe me. I’m sure a lot of people don’t and I don’t blame them. It’s hard to understand.
I wish they knew I still miss you. I wish they knew every joyful celebration is missing an important piece of our family, thus all the excitement is bittersweet. I wish they knew I think about you every day.
But I wish they knew that I’m deeply grateful to have been given such a rare and incredible gift--the gift of parenting a child that I cannot hold. I wish they knew the depth of joy and closeness with Christ that has come from such deep suffering. I wish they knew the joy I feel--yes, true unwavering joy, but that I am experiencing lighter happiness too.
It’s both and. The daily ache does not take away my joy, yet the joy does not take away my ache. I am living in tension--but as a follower of Christ, I always have been.
Thank you Jesus for generously placing dear friends, radiant sunsets, and joyful surprises in this season--You have always been good in every circumstance, and I thank you for the comfort and joy only you can pour out.

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 6: Scripture//
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
In an article titled “What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas”, Nancy Guthrie writes, “This is our great hope at Christmas, and the hope we have to share with those who are grieving at Christmas — that ‘yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.’ The Christ who came as a baby and died as our substitute will one day return to consummate his kingdom.”

Comfort and Joy Advent- Day 7: Traditions past//
I love traditions. Decorating the tree while soft Christmas music plays, watching cheesy Christmas cartoons, going to church on Christmas Eve, picking up a hot beverage and driving around to view the brilliant light displays--it all brings me so much joy this time of year.
The year Ethan died, our old traditions felt far from traditional. The traditions of my childhood, those I had hoped to pass down to our children, hadn’t changed much--yet they had changed entirely. Decorating the tree felt like a chore, watching cheesy Christmas cartoons felt painful (and honestly, I felt pathetic) without a child to watch them with, and elaborate displays just wasn’t the same without another set of eyes to soak it all in. Something was missing. Someone was missing.  

Over the years I’ve found joy in these traditions once again, but they do feel different. It’s not that they aren’t enjoyable--they just feel less familiar. Although nothing has changed, everything has changed and thus they feel less like “traditions”.